Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Purge of Salvador's Army Brass Dismantles a Military Clique A Question Remains: Will the New Command Come under Full Civilian Control?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Purge of Salvador's Army Brass Dismantles a Military Clique A Question Remains: Will the New Command Come under Full Civilian Control?

Article excerpt

THEY were bitter. They went under duress. And they dragged it out as long as they could. But the top Salvadoran military brass did step down last week in compliance with the 1992 United Nations-brokered peace accords, which ended 12 years of civil war here.

The purge of 102 Salvadoran officers implicated in human rights violations and corruption was recommended by an independent commission set up as part of the UN peace accords. The panel wanted the officers to leave by Dec. 31, 1992. Although many of the lesser ranking officers were eventually dismissed, the top 15 officers refused to go.

President Alfredo Cristiani said that in the interest of stability, he needed more time. Finally, under pressure from the UN and the United States Congress (which withheld $ll million in military aid), Mr. Cristiani agreed to replace them.

At a July 1 ceremony announcing the 18 officers of the new military high command, Defense Minister Gen. Rene Emilio Ponce took a parting shot at the process that brought an end to his career. He said the UN, his government, and the international community had been "tricked" by El Salvador's leftist guerrillas, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), and called the independent commission "prejudiced, unjust, and biased."

Known as the Truth Commission, the panel undertook a six-month, UN-guided investigation into war atrocities. It recommended top officers be dismissed for their roles in the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and found several rebel leaders responsible for the killing of dozens of mayors during the war. Civilian control?

The key question now, analysts say, is whether the new military command will come under full civilian control.

So far, reaction to the new high command has been favorable. The new defense minister, Col. Humberto Corado Figueroa, is considered a moderate with a close working relationship with Cristiani.

The purge has dismantled the tightly-knit military class of 1966, which ran the war. Several junior officers have been promoted to top positions, indicating that merit rather than class friendships may govern future promotions.

Local human rights groups have criticized the war-time record of some of the officers. But Ruben Zamora, presidential candidate for the Democratic Convergence, a coalition of left-wing parties, says the new high command should be judged on its future performance. "The problem with judging by their record is, what officer in the Salvadoran Army doesn't have a {questionable} record?" Mr. Zamora asks.

FMLN official Facundo Guardado sees the purge of the high command as "the first step toward professionalization of the Army and submission to civil authority and respect for human rights." But he adds, "It's not the most important step." It will be up to the Cristiani government to continue judicial reforms outlined by the peace accords, he says. …

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